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Designing a public library for and with families

The following is an excerpt from the Global Family Research Project, who has highlighted our Fairfield Area Library project: 

When three generations of the same family turned out for a series of community meetings on the future of the Fairfield Area Library in Henrico, Virginia, architect Jeffrey Hoover knew he had a design challenge on his hands.

The grandmother, specifically, was struggling to find a good spot in the existing building to help her grandson with his homework. Typically, seniors and children split off into different directions in libraries, and most spaces don’t accommodate what he calls “family computing,” a type of co-learning process that is growing, as parents and librarians develop a stronger understanding of their roles as “media mentors.”

These were themes Hoover continued to hear as part of his process of seeking community input regarding the architectural designs for the new branch. He wanted to learn about adults’ and children’s goals for the space “before the first pencil hit the paper.” In addition to the community meetings, he talked with parents of young children as they were leaving story time and met with older students at school.

Hoover’s solution was to put the children’s section and the teen’s section of the library on the same level, upstairs, and to situate an open “family collaborative zone” that can accommodate families between the two spaces.

“This makes it easier for families with children of various ages to keep track of activities, and more apparent that spaces for other adults should be elsewhere, downstairs,” says Barbara Weedman, assistant library director for the Henrico County Library System.

With small study rooms, the new design provides children and youth quiet space to do homework or meet with a tutor while still offering “plentiful activity space for energetic teens,” she adds. Nursing mothers will be able to find privacy, and those with busy toddlers will find colorful, playful décor with cozy places for reading.

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